You know that moment at great dinner parties or cocktail gatherings when everybody's good and liquored up? You know what I'm talking about.
The stories are flowing and so is the wine. Everyone is feelin' real relaxed. Someone has probably accidentally spilled or dropped something at this point (it's usually me). Raucous laughter is booming through the house.
That's the moment when Jordan usually tells this story.
To be fair, he does not tell it because he wants to. He tells it because I whore him out. I think this is partially because, though Jordan and I went to college together and I know all the players in this tale, I didn't know this story until a year after we got married. I heard him tell it at a dinner party. So having experienced it as a listener, I know that it's a pretty good story.
Of course, there are two downsides to this:
- I have now already broken the cardinal rule of storytelling, which is: UNDERSELL.
- We have no stories to tell at dinner parties.
Nevertheless. I will press on.
Ladies and gents, my husband.
Okay, so here's the deal. This story is not only 100% real, but also relatively uneventful. That's right – I'm telling you that this story may not even be worth your time.
I really think that what makes it interesting is not that it was exceptionally scary/dangerous/educational, bu that it even happened at all. Just weird. I haven't seen Twin Peaks but, from what I understand, this is very Twin Peaks. Anyway, here we go.
It was sometime in mid-Summer 20...08? 09? One of those. I was an upcoming junior or senior at Birmingham-Southern College. I was staying at our fraternity house that summer along with a few others and, as college summers can be, it was hot and it was boring. One afternoon, someone had the idea to go floating down a nearby river which conveniently ran right through the hunting camp of one of the brothers. We'll call him, "Jay*" to maintain his anonymity.
*Jay, I can already hear you whining about how that's your real name and it's not anonymous. But if you just keep quiet, no one will even know, man.
So we loaded down a few cars with cold beer and inner-tubes and...oh God, this is a bad country song. But seriously, we had some beer and floats. And really not that much food as I remember it. Not that it's relevant, but I'm just kind of free writing here. In fact, another character - "Bill*" - and I were sharing this really great double tube with a cooler in the middle.
* Psst. Will, you're Bill. In case you were wondering.
In hindsight, I should've realized that two semi-adults and 30 Keystone Lights weren't going to make much headway on this river. Which, by the way, was not at all a river. A creek after a rain, maybe, but it hadn't rained in Birmingham for at least a few weeks because the water was low. Low enough for us to question Jay's previous assessment of a 3-5 hour float time.
"But I don't want to get in the way of a good time! Let's go for it."
-- last words of the first guy to die in any teen horror film
Along with Will, Jay and I, we have a few other characters. Let me set them up using as few adjective as possible: Mark – ginger, outdoorsy. Lindsey – female, relative stranger to me, athlete. Rob – diabetic, resourceful. Jerome* (tall, fratty) and 3 lady friends of his from another school. Don’t know the names of the three girls he brought, but let's go with Alvin, Simon, Theodore. There were other people there (like Keith and Thomas/Ford) but they played a relatively normal and uneventful role. Good God this is taking so long to type out. How does my wife do this every day?
*I wish I could tell you this guy was actually named Jerome but he's someone else and I'd never get a chance to use Jerome if I didn't use it now. Sorry, man.
We ended up putting in on the river around 1 PM -- a little later than we'd like, but given our projected float time, we were thinking we'd be back at least an hour before sunset. Everyone inflated their tubes and started getting into the creek. Which was barely even moving. Not hyperbolically And since we were two people plus beer for us and Mark, we were way slower than everyone else. Right when we hit the river, the group began to spread out - some folks swimming ahead and others dragging along the bottom. Before long*, Mark, Lindsey, Bill and I were far behind everyone else. We were all chipping in to lighten the cargo weight of our cooler tube and, really, the next thing I remember is it starting to get dark.
*In fact, it was very little time. Kind of suspiciously little time?
Earlier, we had entertained the "What if the creek forks and we don't know which way to go?" scenario, but had decided it useless to worry about. Besides, it probably wouldn't happen anyway. Or whatever.
But when darkness fell, things were a little different. So, to recap: strange creek, wilderness, swimsuits, plastic toys. Not a great situation. But then we rounded a bend in the creek...(seriously.)
Standing there was a guy in cargo shorts, an old t-shirt, glasses, and a hillbilly haircut. His two boys, maybe around 4-8 years old, were playing with PIECES OF GARBAGE in the stream. That's for real. And this isn't sad - they were perfectly happy and having a great time. But it was weird. As we got closer (of course he was staring at us the whole time), we tried to engage him in conversation to help us find the group.
"Hey sir, have you seen some people floating down the creek recently?" we asked like white idiots.
"Oh yeah! Y'all with that group? They must be two hours ahead of y'all."
"Say, do y'all need a ride?"
In case you were wondering, now is when things got weird. I think we can all immediately recognize and dismiss the "Oh, what a good neighbor! He sounds like such a gentleman and a hero," angle.
Not today, Walt Disney.
This is real life and this is how you end up on 60 Minutes. In my head, it was safer to gamble on floating at night than go anywhere with Cletus* here. Mark pipes up that we absolutely would, which I didn't like at the time but, again, in retrospect, was the right move. And then Cletus adds a condition: "Well, I think I'm gonna need them tubes then."
*Cletus, I didn't change your name. But I don't think you have the internet so you'll never know.
To be clear, our trade was: a ride somewhere with a backwoods stranger or floating down a stranger creek at night. I feel like this could also be used as a commentary on our current choices for President, but I digress.
So we get out of the water, hand the man our tubes and climb into the back of his old pickup truck. Again, it's Mark, Lindsey, Bill and I, and we're lost in the woods with a stranger who just took our tubes (only means of escape?) and is now driving us somewhere. It's starting to get pretty dark now and we make a quick drive up to his trailer home – tarp on roof, moldy sides, the classic terrifying dilapidated trailer in the woods. In the dark.
He pulled into his driveway and left to go get something out of his house. No clue what. I would've thought about that more had we not looked down to see two things of note in the truck bed with us.
1) A rusted machete. No, you shut up! I am not kidding.
2) Several torn up little girls tennis shoes. Recall: this man has two children. They are both male.
Four college kids. Lost in the woods. In the dark. Stranger picks them up. Rusted machete and dirty kids clothes in truck. If that doesn't sound like some new scary movie, you're an idiot. In fact, I know it is like a scary movie because then they guy's wife comes out. I don't remember much about her looks but her interaction was brief but powerful.
Walking out of the trailer and not really talking much to us, she came over to the cab of the truck, opened the door to grab a pack of cigarettes, pulled one out and lit it. She was staring into our eyes as she drew and exhaled. Duh. Terrifying. As she breathes out, she says, "Hey, this is kinda like Deliverance idn't it?" And then just walks away back to the trailer. End scene.
As the mom walks in, the dad walks out and, pointing directly to Lindsey, asks, "Hey girl, you gotta pee?"
You are getting all of this, right? I mean, come on. Some man just pointed at the only woman in a bikini top and shorts and asked her if she needed to pee. Again, out of the situation, it's only odd. But here, it really only is good as a psychologically destabilizing comment. Did you really care if she had to pee, man?
She says no, he comes over and climbs in the truck. We end up tearing down this dirt stretch of road, legitimately reaching 30-40 mph. Which is pretty fast on a dirt road with kids in back. We make a pitstop and buy him some beer as a token/bribe. As we get back in the truck and continue to hope we won't be murdered, one of the guys (can't remember which) looks at me and says, "Hey man, if you want to jump out of this moving car right now, I'm with you." Incredibly, we stay in the truck and get dropped off about at the entrance to Jay's land. And we lived.
That's the end of the suspenseful stuff. Seriously. That's it. I told you it wasn't going to be worth it. I mean, if it was really a great story we probably wouldn't have survived, so I guess, really, it's as good as it could be without me not being here to tell it.
After hiking about ¾ mile, we see the lights of Jay's cabin. At this point, I'm ready to kill Jay. We walk into the cabin, expecting everyone to be frantically looking for us or maybe cheering our return, but there's only one person there. We tell our whole story which, although scary, is at least over. We quickly realize that's not the case for everyone else we were floating with.
No one else had made it back and, by now, it's nearing 11 PM. That's about 10 hours of time on the water, if they were, in fact, still on the water. As decisions were made on whether or not to call Jay's dad (we did) to bail us out (he did), we hear something crashing through the woods.
We run out to find Rob the Diabetic bursting out of the thicket, all cut up and looking for insul... I mean, water. He tells us that he floated between our groups and ended up getting a flat tube. He left the creek, aiming for the road. He ended up finding the house first but not before FASHIONING HIS TUBE INTO SANDALS. Real life Bear Grylls stuff here. It was and is still an awesome thing that no one talks about. Resourceful Rob! Or Resourceful Rob the Diabetic, if you want to keep the medically-relevant name. At this point, we finally decided things had gotten bad enough for us to call Jay's dad.
It's now around 2 AM. We hear someone hollering for help from up the creek. We run out to meet the voice, Bill cutting his foot in the process, only to find Jerome's ass complaining that he needs water. He probably did, but considering we were almost murdered by meth-heads and Rob almost died in the woods with a tube for shoes, needing water was hardly a "help"-worthy scenario. Especially when you're surrounded by fresh creek water. I'm just saying.
At this point, Jay's dad arrived with a friend, both packing mad heat and cargo shorts and ready to kill something or save Jay or whatever. They take a canoe to our put-in and disappear. After a few hours, Jay's dad and his friend arrive back at the cabin. At this point, it's just after dawn. They basically tell us everyone is fine and is just going to float back to us. Not a lot of info but, hey, we did ruin his weekend, so I get it. People end up showing up in a few groups.
Once we all regroup, we get to hear what happened to the other folks. One group ended up spending the night under the deck of an abandoned shed in the woods (I am not making this up). To add even more crazy spookiness to that equation, in the middle of the night, someone randomly walked up the porch steps into the shed - all while this group was sleeping underneath trying not to be noticed. Or that's what they told us.
And Jerome's lady friends? Alvin, Simon, and Theodore? They ended up totally separated from what was already a group of total strangers and huddled on a rock in the middle of the stream. All night. So they were pretty thrilled when they got back.
Anyway, we're all okay, the story's over, blah blah blah. Whew.
All in all, helluva weekend.